24/02/2022 – Agriculture / Cellular / egg / Finland / Biotech / Onego / VTT
Finnish startup raises €10m to commercialise production of egg white without chickens
The cellular agriculture spin-off from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland uses a commercially proven Trichoderma technology to solve environmental problems associated with eggs – one of the world’s most consumed animal proteins, yet one that has until now proved difficult to replicate in the lab.
Finnish biotech startup Onego Bio Ltd has announced the successful closure of €10 million seed round with participation from venture capital investors Agronomics Limited and Maki VC. Onego Bio’s breakthrough technology – developed and researched at VTT https://www.vttresearch.com/en – enables the production of bioalbumen via cellular agriculture means.
Bioalbumen is an animal-free egg protein, produced with a specific precision fermentation process that creates identical egg white protein without the need for animals.
“The time is right”
The company believes that the demand for animal-free egg white protein will grow globally in the years ahead, as intensive animal farming causes many environmental hazards, including excessive use of land, greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, and the risk of global pandemics.
“We want to thank VTT and our investors for supporting a technology that is part of a bigger wave of changing people’s perspective on alternative ways of producing food,” said Maija Itkonen, CEO of Onego Bio Ltd. “The time is right to spin out this technology and start manufacturing our product, as consumers are more open to try products that are not animal-derived.”
Significant environmental advantages
Global egg production has almost doubled in volume over the past 20 years, and is forecasted to reach 138 million tonnes by 2030. At VTT, the team has developed a safe, sustainable and cost-effective cellular agriculture method for producing ovalbumin, the most abundant egg white protein. This biotech process, based on harnessing the microflora Trichoderma reesei for protein production, with the help of water, sugar and certain minerals, can provide significant environmental improvements to the egg white production. The team believes the chosen technology is superior because of its efficiency and productivity.
Cellular agriculture uses microorganisms and bioreactors instead of traditional animal farming. The method can be compared to beer production, in which micro-organisms are fed sugar to produce alcohol.
The road ahead to “rethinking eggs”
“VTT’s laboratories and technical teams have cutting-edge know-how to develop truly new innovations. We will continue working together with them on the scientific aspects – and together with our investors, we are simultaneously focus on commercialising the technology,” Itkonen continued.
Onego Bio Ltd will focus on building its pilot production in Finland during the coming years and acquiring the necessary commercial approvals for its first product, animal-free bioalbumen powder. The product will be first marketed in the United States, where the regulatory landscape allows for faster market entry.
Onego Bio Ltd is planning to market the product as a food ingredient for the bakery and confectionary industry, as well as a protein supplement for fitness products, and later enter the consumer market with its own branded products for baking and cooking.
“We have a big mission: We want to rethink eggs and give people access to a delicious healthy animal-free alternative. Egg white is a smart starting point for next-level proteins. Because of its unique functional properties like gelling, foaming, binding and emulsifying, the egg white is extremely difficult to replace with alternative ingredients. In many applications, egg is the last frontier before entirely animal-free end-products can be manufactured,” noted Itkonen.
“The potential to produce bioalbumen at industrial scale”
Jim Mellon, Executive Director of Agronomics said his team was “highly impressed” with the Onego team’s capabilities, background, and vision for the company. “With their technology, they have the potential to produce bioalbumen at an industrial scale – and at a price point that is competitive with conventional egg production, which has major implications for the environment and animal welfare,” he noted. “Egg white production has a huge total addressable market, and there is a necessity to utilise precision fermentation tools to meet the demand in a sustainable manner. We look forward to seeing what they can accomplish.”
It is forecasted that food production based on cellular agriculture will lead to a disruptive change in the entire food system. The technology would not just have a positive impact on environmental issues but also reduce exposure to antibiotics, and contribute to global health by preventing infectious diseases, such as bird flu, from transferring to humans.
Setting the bar high in cellular agriculture
“VTT has world-class knowhow in the field of cellular agriculture and microbial based protein production,” said Tua Huomo, Executive Vice President of VTT. “In Finland there are great companies working on other areas of cellular agriculture, and now it’s time to set the bar high and have a position also for proteins that are traditionally sourced from animals. This action will be hopefully remembered as one of the great milestones towards the more sustainable and healthy food system,” Huomo concluded.
The project has been part of VTT LaunchPad, a science-based spin-off incubator, where VTT researchers and technology are brought together with the best business minds and investors out there to renew industries. VTT LaunchPad supports incubator teams to develop VTT owned IPR into fundable spin-off companies.
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